Wednesday, February 27, 2013




A Note To My Readers


We like our heroes to wear white hats and our scoundrels to wear black. But we do not live in a black and white world. Shades of gray color both minor and momentous acts. In his film "Lincoln "Stephen Spielberg accurately portrays the great man trading jobs for votes.

Was Christopher Columbus the intrepid explorer described in some history books or was he the merciless slave trader portrayed in other historical accounts? I believe anyone who has an interest in history will welcome a deeper understanding of how personal character and momentous events can converge to produce a scoundrel and a hero in one and the same person.  In my blog "Ironic American History" I describe how infamous labels can obscure heroic deeds and conversely how heroic deeds can camouflage villainous acts.  Here are a few illustrations:
  • Clarence Gideon, a convicted felon, was too poor to pay for a defense attorney. He appealed to  the Supreme Court from his jail cell and won a landmark Supreme Court decision that mandated all states to provide public defenders in criminal cases.
  • Four years before he attempted to sell the defense plans of West Point to the British, Benedict Arnold saved the American Revolution at the Battle of Valcour Island.
  • Wernher von Braun is considered by many to be the "father" of the American space program. During World War II he oversaw the manufacture of German V-2 rockets in slave labor camps.  The V-2s pulverized London in the latter stages of the war.
I welcome your suggestions and input. Insert a comment after a post and nominate your choice for inclusion in the pantheon of scoundrels who made America great.

Monday, February 25, 2013

No Passport

The Arabia Maru cleared the harbor and picked up speed. The rolling expanse of cerulean sea stretched to the horizon. The chatter of the Japanese crew was a vivid reminder to Iva Toguri and the other passengers that they were embarking on a journey to a much different world than the one they left behind. She felt unprepared for the trip. She was Nsei - second generation Japanese, but she was Japanese in appearance only. Her parents had immersed their children in American culture. She didn't speak Japanese; she couldn't use chopsticks; and she hated rice.

Despite these limitations she comforted herself with the thought that in a few months she would be returning to the States. In her haste to book passage she did not have time to wade through red tape for a passport. This did not seem to be a problem. Her father, Jum, assured her that the certificate of identification issued by customs was all she needed to prove her American citizenship. When she was ready to come home, he said, she would have no difficulty booking passage.  He could not have been more wrong.

To be continued


Saturday, February 23, 2013


The Voyage 

July 5 ,1941

Seagulls wheeled in the sparkling California sky as the Japanese cargo liner Arabia Maru glided out of the San Pedro harbor.  Its destination was Yokohama, Japan.  Dressed in a white sharkskin suit a slim 25 year old woman leaned against the ship's railing. Right hand shielding her eyes, Iva Toguri squinted against the harsh glare of sun and sea. She caught one last glimpse of her parents waving from the pier. How suddenly her life had changed! Instead of preparing for medical school, she was on her way to Tokyo to minister to her sick aunt Shizu. The young woman waved one more time then she turned to survey the mammoth vessel.  It would be her home for the next two months.

This was Toguri's first time at sea.  She felt a pang of anxiety as she contemplated the dangers of a 5,000 mile journey across the vast Pacific Ocean.  Her intuition wrestled with her rational mind as she thought about floating on a body of water three miles deep on a big chunk of iron. Like thousands of novice sea going voyagers before her she might have stamped her foot down on the gray metal deck. It was an irrational movement intended to reassure a nervous imagination that the ship was indeed seaworthy.  Looking around it was clear that The Arabia Maru was no luxury liner. It was a hard working cargo ship more suited to transporting freight than passengers. She watched as crew members scurried about stowing lines while they shouted directions to each other in Japanese.

As it passed out of the harbor and into the open sea the ship began to rock gently side to side. Slowly Toguri walked forward towards the ship's bow. Her gait adopted a sway of its own as she tried to keep in rhythm with the ship's movement. She skirted two cargo hatches and passed under a complex arrangement of thick cables and towering booms. A dozen or so other passengers milled around the deck as they too sought to get their bearings. The clanging of a winch pulley attracted her attention to the top of the main mast. A stark white flag emblazoned with a crimson circle and rays snapped in the breeze. It was the "Rising Sun". The iconic emblem was recognized throughout the world as the symbol of the mighty Japanese Empire.

To be continued "The Myth of "Tokyo Rose"

Thursday, February 21, 2013


A Celebration


On an unseasonably warm Chicago afternoon, January 15 2006, a small group of family and friends sat down for lunch at Yoshi's Cafe.  It was more than sushi and sake that lured the diners to the elegant French-Japanese fusion restaurant. They were there to witness the culmination of one of the strangest sagas in American history. Convicted of treason in 1949 and pardoned by President Ford in 1977, Iva Toguri, known to many as the notorious "Tokyo Rose" was about to receive the 2006 Veterans Commission Edward J. Herlihy Medal for loyalty and patriotism.

All eyes riveted on the 89 year old Japanese-American woman as she stood to receive the award.  Her steady gaze softened as James C. Roberts, president of the American Veterans Center, placed the red-white-and blue ribbon with medallion around her neck.  With faces wreathed in smiles, the small assembly burst into applause.  Finally, the myth of the World War II traitor "Tokyo Rose" was dispelled.  On this day the diminutive American patriot Iva Toguri stood tall.

Toguri returned home that evening a happy woman. Her ordeal was over. Over the past 65 years she had resigned herself to the possibility that she would always be branded - "Tokyo Rose". Her redemption was now complete.  In the eyes of those who mattered most, the World War II veterans, she was not a traitor.  She was a hero. Although there is no record of what Iva was thinking that wintry evening as she climbed into her bed and put her head on her pillow, one can imagine her thoughts drifting back to that fateful summer morning - July 5, 1941 - when a good Samaritan mission took her to the wrong place at the wrong time.

To be continued

Iva Toguri

The Myth of "Tokyo Rose"

Iva Toguri

Her name was Iva Toguri, but she called herself "Orphan Ann".  Six nights a week she hosted the Zero Hour.  The World War II Japanese propaganda radio program broadcast to Allied troops throughout the Pacific.  Her orders were to play music, and demoralize troops with insidious messages about lost battles on the front and lost lovers at home.

 In collaboration with a swashbuckling Australian prisoner of war, she attempted to subvert Japanese propaganda by turning the Zero Hour into a parody.  She risked her life to provide Allied prisoners in Tokyo with food and medicine.  Although she was one of several female broadcasters nicknamed "Tokyo Rose" by American GIs, only Iva Toguri was arrested and found guilty of treason. She was innocent.  Oppressed by the Japanese military and persecuted by the FBI, she never lost faith in her country.  The ordeal of Iva Toguri is a remarkable tale of grit, loyalty and redemption.

To be continued future posts "The Myth of Tokyo Rose"

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Empty Boot


North of Albany, New York about 50 miles south of the Adirondack high peaks sits the bustling community of Saratoga Springs. Renowned for its racetrack, spas and mineral water Saratoga vibrates with the tony electricity only money can buy. About 8 miles outside town a wide expanse of open fields and woods has been set aside as a national landmark. It was here in 1777 that one of the most crucial battles of the Revolutionary War was fought. Tourists who take guided tours of the expansive battlefield are puzzled by a monument that has no name - only an empty boot carved into granite.

The boot honors the most reviled traitor in American history - Benedict Arnold. He won the honor by leading American forces to victory against a British force from Canada commanded by "Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne". He lost the honor by betraying George Washington and the Revolution in September 1780, when he sold the defense plans to the fort at West Point to the British. Hailed in 1777 and reviled in 1780, no man in American military history ascended to heroism and plummeted to treachery as rapidly as Benedict Arnold.

If not for his courage of Benedict Arnold at Saratoga and a year earlier at the Battle of Valcour Island the state of New York would be a province in Canada. Benedict Arnold is a true American hero who deserves more than an empty boot to honor his deeds.